Child Abuse ó More Than Stranger Danger

By Tara A. Trower
The Statesman
October 22, 2010

When I moved off the newspaperís metro desk a few years back, one task I was happy to leave behind was the reading of police affidavits.

The files are filled with the unpleasant details of child abuse in our city. The subject was hard enough to read about before I had children, but afterward it just became brutal. The list of abusers was long: parents, stepparents, teachers, roommates, babysitters, family friends, neighbors, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, church members.

Child abuse, especially sexual abuse, it not something a parent wants to contemplate. But I was reminded last night that itís part of my job as a parent to do so.

Iím preparing to teach Sunday School at my church and the diocese requires that all volunteers go through training to help identify and prevent sexual abuse against children and the elderly.

The videos are tough to watch. Parents and children talk about their awful experiences, plus interviews with actual perpetrators about how they identify victims and cover up their actions. The stat that hits you over the head is that 90 percent of sexual abuse is committed by someone the family already knows. Teaching kids about stranger danger is simply not enough.

Last night was my second time viewing the material, due to a paperwork mix up. And it wasnít any easier to watch the second time, although there were some differences.

The first time I went through the training, my oldest child was only seven months old. It was hard enough to envision her walking and talking, much less being out of my watchful eye beyond day care (which requires an enormous amount of trust no matter where you leave your kids.)

But now, at age 3, my daughter Ayanna is starting to develop her own social calendar ó ballet lessons, Sunday School, playing with the neighborhood kids. And that is requiring me to loosen the reins a little bit. I canít be everywhere at once and it is important for her to explore without me hovering.

The training made me realize that my husband and I need to do a better job of talking to Ayanna about her body, defining for her what is private and helping her develop a vocabulary and ability to talk to us about what makes her uncomfortable or scared no matter how big or small the topic. It also made me feel better about trusting my own instincts, because as parent, sometimes thatís all you have to go on.

Unfortunately, broaching some of these topics forces me to consider the unthinkable. But thatís better than the alternative. With estimates that as many as one in three girls and one in seven boys will be sexually abused at some point in their childhood, we canít afford not to talk about it.

For tips on how to identify and prevent sexual abuse against children, go to Stop it Now. (Itís a national child abuse prevention organization, not affiliated with any church, but offers much of the same information.)


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